Google Ventures and others back universal flu vaccine firm Vaccitech
The Oxford University spin-out announced the series A funding round this week explaining it will use the money to develop its portfolio of vaccines, which includes a universal influenza vaccine in Phase II development.
Vaccitech CEO Tom Evans told us, “We know the technology induces an immune response in humans based on the various first-in-man studies we have conducted.”
He added the firm plans to use the venture capital funding to pay for all corporate activities, including product development.
The UK firm’s candidate vaccines consist of genes encoding pathogenic proteins loaded into adenovirus delivery vectors.
The adenoviruses Vaccitech uses - chimpanzee adenovirus Oxford 1 and 2 – are non-replicating.
The firm produces the viral vectors in the HEK293 cell line, which contains the adenoviral gene E1 that the viruses lack.
Adenoviral vectors are an area of significant interest for both gene therapy and vaccine developers.
Spark’s eye disease treatment Luxturna – which in December became the first gene therapy to be approved by the US Food and Drug Administration FDA) – is delivered using a modified adenovirus.
Developers have also employed adenoviruses in the delivery of vaccines. However, the immune responses such products generate mean multiple administration can be problematic.
Vaccitech’s approach to this problem is to use its adenovirus vectors to deliver the initial dose of vaccine and then switch to a separate, unrelated vector called Modified vaccinia Ankara (MVA).
Evans told us, “The foreign gene is encoded into both the non-replicating adenovirus and the non-replicating MVA,” adding “The adenovirus is given first, and then boosted with the MVA.”
In addition to the influenza vaccine, which is in Phase IIb study, Vaccitech’s portfolio includes vaccines for the prevention of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), human papillomavirus (HPV) and hepatitis B (HBV).
It also has several anti-cancer vaccines in development.